The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.
I must lead with a confession. I jacked this idea from an illustration Kevin used in a sermon.
All the kiddos are gearing up for a midnight visit from Santa Claus, the old, fat man who sneaks in through our chimneys to magically leave exactly what the children want and eat cookies, if the kids are “good” and not “naughty”. In other words, the kids on their own righteousness merit their reward.
Because this is the Bible belt, where the Gospel has more often been assumed than it has explained, this is the mindset many people have about God. I would go as far as to say this is the mindset most people have about God. If I am good, he and I are good. If I am bad, he’s ticked.
As the student minister, it’s been intriguing how long it takes students to catch on to the idea of grace, and let go of the idea of works. I recall teaching a 5 week series “What is the Gospel?” and leading the middle school dudes through an intense study of salvation. At the time, our efforts to push kids to read their Bible and make disciples were being interpreted through a bad grid. The grid said “This is what I need to do to be accepted by God.” So we launched into the effort to explain the Gospel. And after weeks and weeks of re-training their minds, repeating passionately the same question week after week, and a certain mindtrick I picked up in school at New Orleans (joke.), they had finally gotten it. I could ask what it took to be saved, and they could answer “believe in Jesus as Lord and what he did on the Cross” (with the caveat that Lord means boss, and that means he runs my life now).
We were doing it. We were getting past the silly mindset that we could appease the wrath of God kindled at our rebellion by showing up at church and reading a few Bible verses.
And then I got a few membership covenants across my desk. Not one. But three. Three membership covenants from students who were regulars in my Circle group. The question was some form of “If you stand before God, and he asks why you should be let into heaven, what will you say?”
“I try to read my Bible and make disciples.”
NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!
The wording of the question had changed, and the robotic response was no longer there. The concept hadn’t permeated their mindset.
But even worse than this…as an adult, it is, at times a tremendous struggle to believe that God loves me by grace apart from my performance.
I mean, how many of us have committed some grievous sin (“grievous” like neglecting the Spirit, or yelling at our wife, or losing our cool with some idiot on the road, or failing to make disciples, or any other sin) and then we feel like God doesn’t want to talk to us and we try to hide like Adam? Our performance lapsed, so we think our relationship is strained.
We are all prone to believe silly myths about our own righteousness being the requirement for salvation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says regarding the goal of Christian community,
…they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this “alien righteousness”.
I’ve often quoted Luther’s contention that the Gospel must be beat into our heads continually. One of the biggest needs of Christian community is to preach the Gospel to one another, when our brother or sister fail to apply the Gospel to their own lives.
Santa Claus says be good and get on the nice list and you’ll get some presents. If you’re bad, you get coal, which is a bummer unless you have a long time to wait for it to turn into diamonds. Of course, “good” is kind of relative to the other kids and no specific standard.
Biblically, this fleshes out like this: Jesus is on the nice list, every one of us is on the naughty list which is a understated way of saying “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12)
In conclusion, I’ll push all my chips to the center and wonder why we would want to teach our kids that there are such thing as “good kids” when it seems to undermine the Gospel?